“Game Night” sees its characters playing one of those elaborate role-playing games that’s spread out over several miles and involves a full company of actors. I’m weary of movies with this kind of premise because of the inevitable twist: at some point, we’re going to learn that everything that’s been happening is all part of the game. It’s the same thing with movies about con artists, magicians, or people who meddle in dreams. It’s not that I necessarily mind being played for a fool, I can enjoy some well-planned manipulation, but it just seems like a waste of time when the movie practically announces its intentions so early the way this one does.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a couple who loves to play games. They meet during pub trivia, court each other through a series of competitive dates, and now live for their weekly game night with their friends. That circle is slowly getting smaller, as more and more of their friends are starting to have kids. Max and Annie are trying to have a child of their own, but Max isn’t sure he wants to leave Game Night behind, and seems to be subconsciously sabotaging conception efforts.
One day, Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and invites Max, Annie, and their friends to Game Night. Max is so envious of his more-successful brother that his jealousy and anxiety are cited as reasons for his impotence. Also invited are Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Burbury), a couple whose relationship is tested when he finds out she slept with an unidentified celebrity, and Ryan and Sarah (Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan) who barely know each other but have come to Game Night together because he needs a partner. Not invited is Gary (Jesse Plemmons), Max and Annie’s divorced cop neighbor who desperately wants to do things with the group, but is shunned because he is the creepiest human being on the planet. Think of the human equivalent of a ventriloquist dummy, then have fun trying to sleep ever again.
Brooks arranges for a kidnapping-mystery game where the grand prize is Max’s dream car, then he gets kidnapped. Max and Annie are into the game, given the prize and how it’s fun to see Brooks get roughed up during the kidnapping portion. Except the kidnapping might not have been part of the game. Brooks is mixed up in some shady business dealings, and the lines between the game and an actual kidnapping overlap. A madcap adventure ensues that includes guns, blood, gangsters, an underground fight club, a Fabergé egg, a WITSEC list, a different set of gangsters, death, and having to spend time with Gary. In other words, they might not make it through the night.
“Game Night” provides an entertaining ride as it saunters toward a somewhat predictable ending (it’s evident early on that it’s going to be more than just “it was all part of the game,” but the film can’t resist working that in at least a little). Bateman and McAdams have good chemistry, especially during a scene where he gets shot in the arm and she has to treat the wound. Both are very scared and they’re trying to calm each other down and it really speaks to their loving relationship that they’re so concerned not just for the other’s well-being, but for their feelings as well. There’s also a neat sequence where the characters duck and dodge their way through a mansion playing Keep Away with a Fabergé egg that appears to be one unbroken shot. And on top of all of that, you’ll be checking under your bed at night for Jesse Plemmons. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “Game Night” is a “winning” movie, but it puts in a good showing.
“Game Night” is rated R for language, sexual references, and some violence. Its running time is 100 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.